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Into God's PresenceListening to God through Prayer and Meditation
By Elizabeth Babbs
ZondervanCopyright © 2005 Elizabeth Babbs
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat Is Meditation?
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The Spiritual Supermarket
Spirituality is a popular word these days. In fact, an awareness of all things spiritual has multiplied in the past decade and created something of a spiritual supermarket. Even the word spiritual has been taken over by our consumerist culture and is seen as simply another way to get more out of life.
Not surprisingly, meditation techniques are becoming increasingly popular. In this age of self-help and self-enlightenment, many see it simply as a means to de-stress and achieve a sense of peace and well-being.
For the Christian, however, spirituality is not about getting more; it is, rather, essentially about relationship - a relationship focused on God, which embraces every aspect of one's being. Centred on the teachings of Jesus, this relationship involves Bible study, prayer and contemplation.
When some people hear the word meditation, an automatic word association takes place; for them, meditation equals transcendental meditation (TM). This is understandable because back in the 1960s, the Beatles popularised this form of meditation, and so all meditation became synonymous with TM. Manypeople don't even realise that TM has a religious origin - in Hinduism.
Unfortunately, many Christians seem to be unaware of their own rich tradition in meditation - a tradition that originates in the Bible! The church has done little to encourage us to explore our roots in Christian meditation, a fact that has not only contributed to our current spiritual poverty but has also meant that we are not being heard as Christians in today's spiritual marketplace. It's not surprising then that many describe meditation and contemplative prayer as 'the best kept secret in the church'.
I first stumbled across Christian meditation when I was ill with ME (which stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis, also called 'chronic fatigue syndrome') some fourteen years ago. Much was being said at the time about the benefits of transcendental meditation for those with chronic fatigue, but I was unhappy about the non-Christian principles underlying this form of meditation.
Some months later, however, another Christian ME sufferer gave me a little booklet called Meditation - Why and How by Rev. Leonard C. Wilson. I was amazed because I had no idea that there was a Christian form of meditation or that it was referred to as 'contemplative prayer'. The booklet gives an excellent description of meditation:
Meditation is a mental and spiritual activity between an individual, or group, and God. The creation of a quiet space where one can be alone with God. The inner stillness in which God can speak, and an openness to God through which he can pour the gifts of his Spirit.
Meditation directs the mind away from self, and concentrates it upon God. It stops us thinking of ourselves, our difficulties, our needs, and lets the mind soar beyond all this to God. In the silence of meditation we are learning how to open our hearts to the healing power of God's love; then, because of the close link between our physical and mental states, the body responds in a variety of ways; it may be an increase in vitality, greater resistance to infection, the easing of tensions, pain or other physical disorders.
I still treasure this little gem of a book, because it opened the door to a secret world that has been life changing for me and for so many others. My adventure in prayer had begun!
What is Christian Meditation?
Christian meditation is a deep form of prayer that can lead to direct communion with God. It is not focused on experiences or requests, but on surrender. We are learning the simplicity of being with God.
When we emphasise experience we are in danger of developing a consumerist pick-'n'-mix spirituality, where God's presents to us matter more than his presence. Christian meditation is centred on listening to God and obeying his Word. There is no vague, unintelligible mantra spoken. We are simply following the instruction in the Bible to meditate on God's Word: 'Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful' (Joshua 1:8).
Christian meditation differs from other forms of meditation because it does not require us to empty our minds and hearts, nor does it encourage a preoccupation with self. To quote Joyce Huggett in her book Learning the Language of Prayer:
Christian meditation must not be confused with yoga, Eastern meditation or transcendental meditation. For unlike these disciplines, Christian meditation engages every part of us - our mind, our emotions, our imagination, our creativity and, supremely, our will.
When we meditate, we reflect on the Word of God and allow it to roll over in our minds so that we can internalise it. It's like chewing food and allowing all the nutrients from the rich feast of God's Word to be assimilated into our being. In fact, the Bible tells us that God commends those who 'chew on Scripture day and night' (Psalm 1:2 MSG).
Someone once explained the concept of meditation to me by describing a typical scene outside our city centre church - a place where people often stop to feed bread to the pigeons. 'That's like us,' she said, 'God gives us exactly what we need for each day. He feeds us individually.' This also helped to give me a fresh understanding of the meaning of the Lord's Prayer and in particular the phrase, 'Give us this day our daily bread'. This is a great place to start meditating from, by allowing the familiarity of the Lord's Prayer to percolate through our minds and hearts so that it speaks to us in new ways.
Beware of Information Overload!
Try reading this:
Hitherethanksforreadingmybookitsgreattosharewithyou mypassionforthisverypowerfulformofprayermyownjourneyi ntoChristianmeditationhasbeenalifechangingadventurewher eIhavelearnedhowtodrawclosetotheheartofGodandtodiscern hisleadingformylifethisbookcomesfromthatplaceofseekingthe Fatherspresenceandlisteningtohisvoiceandallowinghimtodire ctmypathIpraythatyouarereallyblessedasyoubeginorcontinu eyouradventureintoprayerbythewaydidyouknowthatmeditati onwasanaturalstressbusterandantidepressant?someresearchst udiesshowthatitcanevenhelpyoutolivelongermeditationisalso anaturalantidotetoinformationoverloadsodoyourselfafavour andtakesometimeoutwithGoditcouldbethebestinvestmentyou evermake!
Does that paragraph give you a headache? It gave me one writing it!
But that is exactly how many of us live our lives - without a break, without punctuation, without --- space, ........... full stops and, ,,,,,,,,,, commas. We're not even sure where the Capital letters go anymore because our lives are so busy that one task runs into another and another. Even taking a proper lunch break has become a thing of the past. We're in survival mode, treading water trying to keep our head above the deadlines and the ever increasing pile of work to be done. The irony is, that our culture applauds our busyness, even though it is contributing to the breakdown of our health and family life.
Information overload has created a new form of stress, and many of us dread opening our emails. Somehow, after a busy information-filled day, even reading the Bible can seem too much to cope with, and when you're tired, it's hard to concentrate.
The good news is that meditation is a great antidote to information overload. To quote a friend of mine, 'The value of meditation is that because you're not overloaded with words, it gives you space to contemplate the "gems".'
Dialling G for God
My quiet is so regularly intruded upon by the noise of mobile phones that I have become increasingly irritated by them and the seemingly inane conversations that take place. Okay, yes I admit it, I have one too! Last year, however, whilst travelling on a train back from Scotland, my irritation turned to inspiration, and I had what Oprah Winfrey describes as 'a light bulb moment'.
When I first learned how to meditate some fourteen years ago, Joyce Huggett, my vicar's wife (and the author of Learning the Language of Prayer, which I quote above), spoke of tuning in to God like a radio, adjusting the dial until you could hear God speak. It was like trying to find his frequency. With the digital revolution, of course, radios rarely have dials anymore. They usually find a particular station automatically by scanning through the frequencies. So the radio metaphor has lost some of its impact. If only hearing from God were so easy!
Still, I've found that another, more recent technological device, the mobile phone, has really helped me to have a much fuller understanding of the importance of prayer and meditation in my life and to communicate this with others. Like mobile communication, our relationship with God is dynamic; it's every day, every hour, every minute, and it can be every bit as 'cool' and exciting. Wouldn't it be great if people spent as much time with God as they do making calls or sending text messages!
My first mobile phone, affectionately described as 'a brick', was not as high-tech as my new one, but that old phone gave me a lot of on-screen information and served as a reminder of six ways in which mobile communication can teach us to communicate more effectively with God.
1. Switching On
First, before you can use a mobile phone, you have to switch it on. In the same way we have to take time to switch on to God, to show our willingness to spend time with him. Just expressing to him your openness is a start, as in this simple prayer:
Lord, help me to focus on you, as we spend time together today. Renew my mind and help me to let go of all the clutter that gets in the way.
Next, my mobile phone has to take a few seconds to register its connection to the phone system, which is a reminder to me to acknowledge my own connectedness to God. You need to admit your dependence on that connection:
Lord, you are my Father and Saviour, Creator and Lord Apart from you I can do nothing.
Then my mobile phone screen tells me that it is searching for the particular person I am trying to call. It is trying to find his or her signal. This is like tuning in to God's presence, taking time just to be quiet and hear that 'still small voice' of God. But if I hear nothing, I have not failed, because even wasting time with the one we love is valuable. In fact, it's at the heart of prayer. As lovers grow in intimacy, words become unnecessary, and, to quote one retreatant, 'Silence says all'. We don't spend time with God for what we get from him. Wasting time with God is always an investment. One day we will have nothing but time to spend with God - so our quiet times and Sabbath rests now are simply preparation for heaven.
4. Signal Strength Low
Tiredness, stress, anxiety, illness, relationship difficulties, interruptions, children screaming in another room will interfere with our ability to focus on God. Somehow, we have to learn either how to ignore the internal and external noises or how to incorporate them in such a way that they no longer become a distraction.
5. Battery Low
What a wonderful reminder battery low is. My mobile phone will only function for twenty-four hours before it displays this warning. At that point I have to recharge its batteries by plugging it into an electricity source.
In the same way we have to keep coming back to base, returning to our Source, which is God. This is exactly what Jesus did when he took time out to be with his Father: 'After leaving them, he [Jesus] went up on a mountainside to pray' (Mark 6:46).
The pattern of ministering and withdrawal, giving out and then receiving, is biblical. It was modelled by Jesus, and Jesus encouraged his disciples to adopt this same pattern. 'Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest"' (Mark 6:31).
We too can be recharged, re-energised and refocused by returning to base and taking time out with our Father.
6. Charging complete ...
What a lovely thought! When our charging is complete, we are ready to face anything!
So What Does the Bible Tell Us to Meditate On?
But the question arises: What exactly should we meditate on? What thoughts should we bring to mind? Well, the Bible gives us guidance on this:
I am awake before the cry of the watchman, that I may meditate on Your word. (Psalm 119:148 AMP)
God's Law and Commands
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. (Psalm 119:97)
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place ... (Psalm 8:3)
God's Miracles and Mighty Deeds
I will meditate on your works and consider all your mighty deeds. (Psalm 77:12)
God's Unfailing Love
Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. (Psalm 48:9)
... that I may meditate on your promises. (Psalm 119:148 AMP)
Excerpted from Into God's Presence by Elizabeth Babbs Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth Babbs. Excerpted by permission.
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